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Man accused of hiding body in High Cliff State Park appears in court

John Andrews
Posted at 3:15 PM, Apr 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-22 18:26:40-04

CALUMET COUNTY (NBC 26) — A man who was arrested in connection to a body found in a state park last year made his first appearance in court Friday. A judge ordered a $10,000 signature bond for John C. Andrews, who was convicted of killing Starkie L. Swenson back in the 1980s.

Swenson's remains were not found until September 2021. He was last seen alive in Neenah in 1983. On Thursday, authorities announced Andrews has been arrested on a charge of hiding a corpse.

The sheriff's office said Swenson’s remains were discovered by two hikers accessing the trails at High Cliff State Park on September 29. Authorities announced the verification of Swenson's remains in December.

New details from the criminal complaint

Along with a new charge, authorities filed a new criminal complaint, which is the legal document stating the case for charging Andrews.

Statements in the newly-filed criminal complaint indicate that back in August 1983, Andrews was angry over Swenson's romantic involvement with Andrews' ex-wife, whom Andrews had only recently divorced a few months ago. Andrews and his ex-wife still saw each other regularly.

A witness, whom the criminal complaint said was a friend of Andrews, stated that she was driving past Shattuck Junior High School in the evening with her windows down on August 13, 1983. In the complaint, the witness claimed she could hear a car engine revving from the alcove behind the school. The witness also said she heard two male voices, with one sounding like "begging," and saying “No, John, don’t,” and “I’ll stay away for her.”

In the criminal complaint, the witness said she, "thought that she could hear metal scraping on the asphalt. She indicated she then heard two loud thumps as if someone was striking a car and also thought she heard wood breaking."

The complaint goes on to say the witness, identified as W3 in the court document, stated, "The same voice said 'oh god,' and a scream that was cut short. The other male voice, W3 thought was John Andrews, then hollered 'How did you like that.'”

"W3 said she was scared and continued down Elm Street to Laudan Boulevard," the complaint said. "She looked to Shattuck and observed John Andrews’ car parked in the driveway of the school just south of the alcove facing toward Elm Street. She could see the trunk was open and John Andrews was standing behind the trunk, leaning over the trunk. W3 said she left and thought John may have noticed her and she was scared."

The complaint said the following day, W3 spent some time with Andrews eating at Hardees, where the witness claims to have seen blood under Andrews' fingernails and a scratch on his hand. The complaint said Andrews told the witness he had a previous nose bleed and the scratch was from changing a tire for two girls. Witness statements in the criminal complaint confirm the tire-changing incident actually happened, but a witness said they didn't see Andrews scratch his hand while helping change the tire.

After taking W3 home from Hardees, the criminal complaint said she felt intimidated by Andrews, and at one point he put his hands around her neck. Additionally, the criminal complaint said he threatened to kill W3 and her children if she spoke to the police.

Another witness statement featured in the criminal complaint was from the head custodian at Shattuck Junior High, who told authorities he saw tire marks in the grass and a damaged bicycle. The criminal complaint said investigators showed a picture of Starkie Swenson with his red bicycle to the witness, who said it looked similar to the bike he found.

John Andrews was charged in Winnebago County with First Degree Intentional Homicide for the death of Starkie Swenson. Between March 14, 1994, and March 18, 1994, a jury trial was held in Winnebago County. On March 18, 1994, during the trial, John Andrews entered a guilty “Alford” plea to an amended charge of Homicide by Negligent Use of a Motor Vehicle, he was convicted and sentenced. At the time of the trial, the remains of Starkie Swenson had not been found.

For years, police investigated various possible leads into where Swenson's body might be located, but investigators never found Swenson's remains. The criminal complaint said investigators visited Andrews at his home in June 2021, to see if he would assist with identifying the location of Starkie Swenson's body so Swenson's family could have some closure. According to the complaint, Andrews said, he had "no clue" where Swenson's body was located, and "he never spoke to Starkie in person and never seen him in person."

A few months later, two hikers discovered human bones in the ledge area of the upper portion of High Cliff State Park. The remains were later identified as Swenson's.

The complaint said it appears the body was intentionally covered, or “buried,” with limestone rocks in an attempt to conceal the body. Additionally, a Mello Yello can with a design used in the early 1980s was also recovered from the scene.

Authorities contacted Dr. Jordan Karsten, a forensic anthropologist with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, to analyze the remains.

The criminal complaint listed Dr. Karsten’s opinions on the remains, which stated that the body suffered at least four separate incidents of blunt force trauma to the head. The complaint said there were multiple fractures on the body and many of the injuries were consistent with "automobile vs. pedestrian" crashes.

Dr. Adam Covach, the Fond du Lac County Medical Examiner, also reviewed the findings on the remains. The criminal complaint said Dr. Covach concluded the cause of death was determined to be multiple injuries. The majority of these injuries, the complaint said, were likely caused, "by a motor vehicle vs pedestrian/bicyclist type of incident."

Andrews' first appearance in court

In court Friday, a judge ordered Andrews to not have any contact with certain family and witnesses connected to the case. Andrews was also ordered to maintain complete sobriety.

Before the conditions were set by the judge, the District Attorney had requested a $25,000 cash bail due to incarceration exposure. Andrews was also born in England and has significant out-of-country ties, which the D.A. said should be considered a flight-risk concern.

Attorney Jonas Bednarek said his client deserves the right to interview witnesses, and that the no contact with witnesses order was blanketed.

Andrews was also required to remain in Wisconsin and surrender his passport by Monday.

Bednarek said the statue of hiding a corpse was not in existence until 1991, so a cash bail was not appropriate in his opinion. But with a six-year statute of limitations in Wisconsin, the D.A. stated the charge is set in June 2021.

The next court appearance for Andrews is a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 6.